By Suzanne Bertin
Abundant natural resources, free markets, and a strong commitment to innovation have long positioned Texas as an energy leader. However, Texans’ faith in that leadership was tested this year during Winter Storm Uri, and our state is still looking for solutions to reliably keep the lights on. After the storm, the Texas legislature tasked state regulators with fixing the energy marketplace. This is an opportunity to better integrate advanced energy technologies, like wind, solar, battery storage and efficiency, into the electric grid.
What does that look like? A reformed electricity system should perform like a symphony orchestra, with each instrument, or resource type, playing a different part. The drums set the beat and the tubas play a bass line, while the woodwinds or brass may carry melodies or harmonies depending. No matter if each player thinks their instrument is the most important, the fact is the group produces better, more interesting music as a whole. And with technology like wind, solar, EVs and battery storage advancing rapidly, our energy orchestra is delivering newer “instruments” to play in our electricity grid “symphony.”
But these instruments won’t be able to play together properly unless the Public Utility Commission of Texas makes some changes. Right now, the rules Texas has in place are not keeping pace with technology innovation, preventing some technologies from taking part in what is supposed to be a free market.Much of the debate about market reforms since February has been about how to make it easier for incumbent generators to make more money, but the way to make a better orchestra is not simply to add more trumpets. Texas will miss out on a big portion of the instruments available if it doesn’t incorporate technologies that can reduce energy demand. For example, rooftop solar, home batteries and electric vehicles that could be aggregated into “virtual power plants” to inject power and provide reliability services to local utilities and the ERCOT grid cannot do so due to market rules that have been developed by and for incumbent generating companies and utilities.
The Public Utility Commission should also more aggressively incentivize consumer adoption of energy efficiency and energy management services that give customers more control over their monthly bills. The commission can make the Texas electricity system a truly free market that puts customers first by changing rules that do not allow advanced energy technologies to play their parts. In this way, the commission can act like orchestra conductors, guiding our state’s energy instruments in a way that makes sure the grid works as smoothly and efficiently as possible, and ensuring that customers get the best value for the money they are paying.
Integrating more technologies onto the electric grid won’t just make our energy more affordable, but also more reliable. Wind and solar, for instance, can provide Texans with affordable, easy-to-access fuel to keep the lights on, while battery storage can offer fast and flexible response when the wind doesn’t blow or when the sun is down.
The Texas electric grid will never be as reliable as we need it to be if we don’t take advantage of all these new technologies, leaving us prone to more outages during future extreme weather events, whether it be a deep freeze or the frequent tropical storms of the Texas Gulf Coast.
Right now, the Public Utility Commission has the opportunity to shape what the Texas energy market will look like for years to come. As the commission looks to redesign the market, they’ll need to orchestrate thoughtful energy solutions to assure that it works effectively even during severe weather, and with a swath of advanced energy technologies all at the commission’s disposal, our state stands to produce a full composition of reliable, resilient energy resources.
Bertin is the managing director of Texas Advanced Energy Business Alliance, which represents advanced energy companies in Texas employing over a quarter-million people.